Thursday, September 18, 2008

Beowulf (1999)

(Trailer) A few people might remember the name of the director—Graham Baker—from the original Alien Nation (1988/Trailer) film or, perhaps, his first theatrical release Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981/Trailer), but prior to Beowulf, the man hadn't made anything since the straight-to-video Born to Ride in 1991. Well, Beowulf also ended up also being a straight-to-video release, so who knows how long it'll be before Graham Baker makes another movie. But then, is there any other fate expected of a movie than straight-to-DVD when it stars Christopher Lambert? Still, no matter how old or chubby Lambert might be looking or how miscast he might be, Baker's modern sci-fi take on the classic sixteenth century epic poem (which we all had to read in high school but no one actually remembers) is a true rarity, one of those exceptional films that are always a pleasure to stumble upon: a film so bad, so trashy that it becomes good. Much like a vodka tonic made with way too much gin, it seems pretty weird at first but by the end it's even more enjoyable than the real thing made correctly.
Beowulf was shot on a 20 million budget in Romania, and it looks as if most of the money was spent on the sets and film design. (The core cast itself is relatively small and the masses, in a land like Romania, probably don't cost much. Indeed, considering the careers to date of the "names" involved, the main cast probably didn't cost much either.) Set in what the video box describes as a "techno-futile" future, the story of Beowulf transpires in a mystical netherworld in which bodies are put into zippered plastic body bags before being burnt, people use infra-red telescopes and wear tailored leather outfits complete with stainless steel fasteners but cook and heat with fire, ride horses to get around and fight with an extensive arsenal of souped-up medieval weaponry. (Actually, for all its faults, the strange "techno-futile" setting of the film is indeed an interesting if not relatively original take on the story and is carried through rather successfully.)
Oh yeah, some of people—like Beowulf, for example—love to do dozens and dozens of back-flips back and forth and up and down and all over the place every time they fight someone or something.
In any event, the film opens at a remote, besieged and groovy-looking fortress (complete with a huge smokestack in the shape of a metal glove that opens and closes as it spits out smoke) where the inhabitants are being slaughtered by a cheesy looking monster-suit. (Baker tries hard to hide the cheesiness of Grendal by keeping him in the shadows or hidden in CGI distortion, but whenever the story calls for him to be seen, he just looks like some big guy in rubber.) Gee, wonder why the monster keeps refusing to fight Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton), the castle's lord—could it be that they're daddy and son?
Beowulf—"I must fight evil to keep from becoming evil"—pops up on the scene just in time to save Pendra (Patricia Velazquez, who is given much more to say here than she has as Anak Su Namun in both The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) combined) from being cut in two by a guillotine in the shape of an antique straight-razor, but she prefers death at the hand of some barbarian's sword to returning to the castle.
The travelling warrior is not greeted too warmly at the castle by anyone other than the desperate Hrothgar, but before long both the condescending, fight-happy Roland (Götz Otto) and Hrothgar's hot looking and bitchy daughter Kyra (Rhona Mitra, a partially plastic 34 x 24 x 35 who seems to be going on to better things—if one considers Doomsday (2008/Trailer) better things—seemingly would be happy to get in his pants. Oddly enough, though some nasty critter is roaming the castle and killing everyone in sight, everyone else still goes strolling along the darkened hallways alone, which is how the Weapon Master (Charles Robinson of The Black Gestapo (1975/Trailer) and Sugar Hill & Her Zombie Hitmen (1974/Trailer) dies. Needless to say, everyone is also dead by the end of Beowulf, except for the titular hero and the main tits.
Okay, the love story aspect is totally out of place, but Kyra does look hot, so let's just be happy that they found a way to write her in even if no one knew what to do with her character after she was created. (Love that scene in which she explores a darkened hallway brandishing a knife smaller than the average man's dick.) Grendal's mother (Layla Roberts), the ethereal frizzy-blond, partially-clad and highly seductive succubus that fucks Hrothgar every night in his sleep, is also one hot looking chick with gravity defying mounds of silicone perfection (at least until she morphs into some CGI monster), but despite her perfect diction—was she dubbed by a woman with brains and education?—it is doubtful that Playmate of the Month Miss October 1997 will have a memorable career. In regards to appearances, however, Christopher Lambert really should start looking for roles less physical. He definitely looks a bit heavy around the waist, and he is no longer the most graceful of men – but then, his appearance matches his general acting inabilities, which in turn only helps the trash factor of the movie as a whole.
All in all, Beowulf is anything but what you would call a class act, but despite its bursts of violence, the interminable fight scenes and excessive acrobatics it is hardly as tasteless or extremely tacky as it could have been. Still, it is tacky enough to transcend its numerous faults and to become truly enjoyable, the type of film that keeps you interested and watching despite the giggle fits it also often induces. Dunno, but if the original epic poem were half as fun as this flick, kids in America would probably stop using Cliff Notes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

LOLOL funny shit! really enjoyed this. i just downloaded this movie and now I wonder - why the heck did i waste my bandwith. Ur comments are funny as hell. Do u have any comments on the recent beowulf and grendel flicks?

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